The Things We Leave Behind, and Miss the Most

Long-distance hiking is exciting, challenging, exhilarating, and type two fun. But it can also be hard. Physically exhausting, mentally draining, difficult to even take one more step. And yet none of these things are my biggest obstacle when I set out on a four- to six month-adventure.

It’s what I miss when I’m away that I struggle with the most. Often I think thru-hiking can be glorified by media. People see thru-hikers as carefree, risk-taking adventurers with the freedom in life to leave society for months at a time. For most of us out here nothing could be further from the truth.

He looks pretty carefree for now.

Personally, I have sacrificed so many important moments in my life and the lives of my friends and families to be out on the trail. Birthdays and weddings have been missed. Dance recitals and family holidays. My sister entered rehab and I wasn’t there to support her. I’ve cried many times while walking down the trail, just from the guilt. Many of you will think, “You could have gotten off the trail, attended some of these occasions, and then gotten back on.” And you would be right. I could and I have for some, but it’s impossible to do this for every event or crisis that arises while you’re out there. Not to mention breaking the momentum of a thru-hike.

I write this as I complete my first stretch of the PCT, up to Canada and back to Rainy Pass. I write this to show those I’ve left behind that I haven’t forgotten you, that you are with me every step of the way, that I think about you often and I struggle daily with my decision to be out here instead of back home with you.

And I write this for those who haven’t yet started thru-hiking, but who want to. The hardest part about hiking isn’t always what you face on the trail, sometimes it’s what you leave behind.

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